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Rifko Meier knew nothing about oysters when a friend asked for help shucking and serving them at a party in 2012. A native of Amsterdam, he’d moved to New York City to open an art gallery when the 2008 financial crisis hit—just four days after the gallery opened its doors. Over the next few years, Meier tried to find other ways to make a living. Things weren’t looking good. Then came the call from a friend.
“I’d never shucked oysters in my life,” Meier laughs. But that didn’t stop him.
Meier spent a weekend teaching himself how to shuck. On event night, he showed up in a white leather outfit and buckets around his waist, ready to mingle and serve oysters to guests. “I thought it would be funny,” he says of the now-iconic fashion choice, a reflection of his convivial personality. But replacing a traditional stationary raw bar with a mobile oyster service proved to be a hit: Guests couldn’t get enough of Meier or his bivalves. “I became the rockstar of the party,” he says. “I realized there might be something to this oyster business.”
After the New York Times covered the mobile oyster bar concept—which Meier brought to the US after it originated in Europe—things escalated quickly. In just a few weeks, Meier, his white leather ensemble, and his hip buckets were booked to work the premiere of The Great Gatsby at the Plaza Hotel. Next came an invitation to serve oysters in the VIP suites at the Super Bowl. “I don’t think anything will top that experience,” Meier says.
Nine years later, Meier’s business goes by the name Oysters XO. The company employs “Oyster Chefs'' to shuck and serve farm-fresh, local oysters at private events in eleven cities across the country. Recently, they pivoted to virtual shucking classes and online oyster kit deliveries due to COVID-19. Virtual learning allows Meier to reach an audience that’s even larger than he’d ever imagined. “I love seeing the smile on people’s faces,” he says. “They’re always shocked at how easy it is to shuck.” Each oyster kit arrives with everything you need for an at-home shucking lesson, including three-dozen locally raised oysters, two knives, a towel, and an oyster bag.
By connecting customers with local oysters, Meier provides an opportunity to experience unique elements of regional mollusks—a result of their terroir. He says three factors influence the taste of oysters: the water, the temperature, and the species. Depending on your coast, you may taste the sweeter, creamier notes of Pacific oysters, or the more briny, mineral-based flavors of the Atlantic (Meier likens the flavor to Pellegrino). The warm waters of the Gulf result in flavorful oysters best known for their plump size.
As Meier’s business grows, he hopes to change the narrative of oyster shucking. “There’s this story going around that shucking is dangerous and dirty, and that it’s a man’s job. It’s totally false,” he says. “Anyone can do it. We make it fun!”
Written by Daniela Johnson